Pandemic Punts: Can Blue Jackets be more than underdogs in 2020-21?

blue jackets
Getty Images
1 Comment

Different NHL teams come into the 2020-21 season with different expectations. Yet, with COVID-19 looming to throw a wrench in even the best-laid plans, PHT asks: what if each of the NHL’s 31 teams had to “punt” their 2020-21 season? Some situations are more realistic than others, but hopefully this serves as an interesting exercise. In the latest edition of Pandemic Punts, PHT looks at the 2020-21 Columbus Blue Jackets.

For previous editions of Pandemic Puntsclick here.

The baffling 2020-21 Blue Jackets

During the previous two seasons, it was easy to form a narrative for the Blue Jackets. Yet, heading into the 2020-21 NHL season, it’s difficult to get an overarching sense of where the Blue Jackets are really going.

Again, looking back, it’s interesting to track their trajectory. As you likely recall, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen went for it during the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline. Instead of getting something for Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky — two free agents who would walk — the Blue Jackets instead added Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. In the process, they essentially lit their 2019 NHL Draft stock on fire.

When it comes to those results, it depends on your expectations. On one hand, they pulled off that still-shocking-sweep of the dominant 2018-19 Lightning. Yet, after that triumph, the Blue Jackets fell to the Bruins in the second round. Were the Blue Jackets justified in swinging for the fences? Perhaps, but one playoff series win (even an unforgettable sweep) probably isn’t worth waiting until pick 104 to make your first selection.

After the smoke cleared from 2018-19, people understandably expected little of Columbus in 2019-20. Rather than falling apart without Bob and Bread, the Blue Jackets managed to hang in the East playoff bubble. Once again, they pulled off an upset in eliminating the Maple Leafs in the Qualifying Round. Yet, once again, they ran out of gas after squeezing every last drop out of John Tortorella’s system.

While the Blue Jackets hope Max Domi gives their offense a boost (and doesn’t give Torts too many conniptions), it’s fair to say that Columbus had a fairly quiet offseason overall. So … again, what can we really expect from the 2020-21 Blue Jackets?

Should they try to recoup some of those lost 2019 NHL Draft assets by punting? Are they in position to go from underdogs to somewhere closer to favorites? Let’s dig in.

Werenski, Jones won’t be cheap much longer

Take a look at the Blue Jackets roster, and front office, and you’ll see an interesting mix of good and bad — sometimes in the same people.

Over the years, John Tortorella’s reputation has fluctuated wildly. Is he something of a genius who can get the most out of a limited Blue Jackets roster? Perhaps he’s too old-school and “fiery” for his own good? Maybe it’s a combination of those thought processes. (Especially if you ponder questions such as “Did he rub Panarin the wrong way?”)

Even Seth Jones is a bit of a riddle. By the “eye test,” Jones ranks as an elite NHL defenseman. Yet, for those who dig deeper, Jones becomes more divisive. To me, he’s another reminder of how tough it can be to gauge defense in the sport, and maybe the most profound example of how the 2020-21 Blue Jackets are a tough nut to crack overall.

Detroit Red Wings v Columbus Blue Jackets
(Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

However you feel about Jones, there’s no denying that he’s crucial to the Blue Jackets. The same can be said of fellow defenseman Zach Werenski.

So, because it’s the 2020-21 Blue Jackets, there’s a mix of good and bad. The good is that both are young (Jones: 26; Werenski: 23), and relatively cheap (Jones: $5.4 million cap hit; Werenski: $5M). The less-good is that they’re only so cheap for two more seasons.

Tough questions about their approach (and money)

Looking at the Blue Jackets’ roster, there’s room to punt in 2020-21, if they want.

With Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo both on two-year deals, Columbus may opt to move one, if their season goes awry (and if there are fears of Seattle’s expansion draft). More pressingly, Nick Foligno and David Savard rank as aging veterans on expiring contracts.

It’s possible that Kekalainen will glance up and down that roster and decide to slightly retool. Maybe it’s best to take a step back, and regear a supporting cast around Jones, Werenski, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and possibly Domi?

That’s an idea, but the counter is that certain important forwards aren’t getting any younger.

Both Cam Atkinson and Gustav Nyquist are 31, with at least three years of term. It’s unlikely that the Blue Jackets signed 37-year-old Mikko Koivu with punting 2020-21 in mind, even if it was a one-year, low-dollar deal.

It’s all quite tricky. Especially when you consider less pleasant dollars-and-cents factors.

If box office revenue is even more limited for 2020-21, would the Blue Jackets be wise to move out money, and hope for a better push in 2021-22? (If Forbes’ numbers are at least somewhat accurate, it’s been a tough financial stretch for Columbus.)

It’s one thing to lose money while contending for the Stanley Cup, as reigning champion Tampa Bay may have done. (Again, if Forbes’ numbers are right.)

But what if the Blue Jackets’ ceiling is that of a staunch defensive team that can only make it so far? Would they be better off taking a step back now, in hopes of making a leap afterward? Again … with the 2020-21 Blue Jackets, it’s all quite baffling.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Barkov sets Panthers’ points mark in 5-2 win over Red Wings

Florida Panthers Power Play
Getty Images

DETROIT – Aleksander Barkov set the Florida franchise record for most career points, Carter Verhaeghe scored two goals, and the streaking Panthers beat the Detroit Red Wings for the ninth consecutive time, 5-2.

Barkov recorded a second-period assist, giving him 614 points, breaking a tie with Jonathan Huberdeau for the team record.

Matthew Tkachuk had a goal and two assists, giving him 14 points over the last five games. Eric Staal and Gustav Forsling also scored for the Panthers, who are 6-0-1 over their last seven games, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 20 shots.

Pius Suter and Dylan Larkin scored for the Red Wings, who have lost 10 of their last 12 games. Ville Husso had 20 saves.

The Panthers led 2-1 after the first period.

The first Florida goal came after Lucas Raymond‘s turnover in his own zone. Sam Bennett made the steal and passed it to Tkachuk for his 33rd goal.

Verhaeghe made it 2-0 with a slap shot that got past a screened Husso. The Red Wings challenged for goalie interference, but the goal was upheld after a video review.

Just after killing off the subsequent penalty, Detroit got on the board when Suter jammed in a rebound of David Perron‘s shot.

Forsling scored on shot from the point midway through the second period to restore Florida’s two-goal advantage. Barkov had the second assist, allowing him to break the franchise points record.

Larkin scored on a delayed penalty off a pass from Raymond at 7:53 of the third to cut the Panthers’ lead to 3-2.

Staal scored on a breakaway off a pass from Anthony Duclair with under four minutes left, and Verhaeghe added a power-play goal.


Panthers F Eetu Luostarinen had an assist in the 200th game of his career. … Florida is 29-2-3 when leading after two periods. … The last time the Red Wings beat the Panthers was Feb. 20, 2021. … Barkov has 42 points in 38 career games against Detroit. … Andrew Copp notched his 150th career assist on Larkin’s goal.


Panthers: At Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

Red Wings: At St. Louis on Tuesday night to open a home-and-home set.

Ferguson stops 47 shots, Senators top reeling Penguins 2-1

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

PITTSBURGH – Drake Batherson‘s power-play goal from in front with 2:09 left in regulation lifted the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 win over the reeling Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Penguins finally beat Ottawa goaltender Dylan Ferguson on a Rickard Rakell goal with 5:21 to play, but a hooking penalty by Penguins defenseman Chad Ruhwedel gave the Senators the man advantage and Batherson responded with his 21st goal of the season.

Ferguson, making his first NHL start and first appearance in the league in more than five years, made 47 saves to send Pittsburgh to its fourth straight loss. Thomas Chabot scored his 10th goal of the season for Ottawa as the Senators snapped a five-game slide.

The Penguins fell behind Florida in the race for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Tristan Jarry played well but couldn’t get in the way of Batherson’s jam shot from just outside the crease.

Ferguson began the night having played nine minutes at the NHL level as a teenager for Vegas early in the Golden Knights’ debut season in 2017-18. He has bounced around various levels of the minors ever since and was in the process of being sent down to the ECHL by the AHL’s Toronto Marlies earlier this month when the Senators signed him to a two-way deal.

Something clicked. He played well enough in six games for Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Belleville to receive a call-up on Sunday. Just over 24 hours later, the Senators made the now 24-year-old Ferguson the sixth goaltender they’ve used this season when they gave him the nod against the struggling Penguins.

Ferguson looked like he belonged from the opening faceoff. He made a series of sharp saves early, including a couple of stops from in close against Jake Guentzel and a flashy glove save on a slap shot by Malkin.

Jarry, a two-time All-Star who has struggled to find any sort of consistency since returning from an extended stay on the injured list, took a step forward, turning aside multiple odd-man rushes and a breakaway by Brady Tkachuk in the second period.

The lone goal Jarry allowed came 16:46 into the first when Chabot took a feed from Claude Giroux and rather than fire a shot from high in the slot skated down to the right circle and beat Jarry to the far post.

Jarry was solid the rest of the way, though he spent most of the game watching Ferguson dazzle at the other end before Rakell broke through with just over 5 minutes to go.


Senators: Travel to Boston on Tuesday to face the NHL-leading Bruins.

Penguins: Start a difficult back-to-back on the road on Wednesday when they visit the Avalanche in Denver.

Sharks goalie James Reimer declines to wear Pride jersey

Getty Images
1 Comment

San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer didn’t take part in pregame warmups, saying the team’s decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

Reimer said in a statement Saturday that he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, adding that he “always strived to treat everyone with respect” and that members of the LGBTQ community should be welcome in hockey.

“In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

Reimer is the second NHL player this season to refuse to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, with Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov declining to in January. Reimer was not slated to start in Saturday night’s home game against the New York Islanders, which is Pride night.

Additionally, the New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.

The Sharks said in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusiveness.

“As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said in a statement. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

The You Can Play Project, which works to promote inclusiveness in sports, said the organization was disappointed in Reimer’s actions.

“Religion and respect are not in conflict with each other, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason to not support our community,” the organization said. “Wearing pride jerseys, like any celebration jersey worn, is not about the personal feelings of an athlete; rather the communication from the team that a community is welcome in the arena and the sport.”

Panarin, Shesterkin lead Rangers to 6-0 rout of Penguins

Getty Images

NEW YORK — Mika Zibanejad had a goal and two assists, Artemi Panarin scored twice and Igor Shesterkin made 33 saves as the New York Rangers routed Pittsburgh 6-0 on Saturday night for their second win over the Penguins in three days.

Vladimir Tarasenko, Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba also scored for the surging Rangers, who have won nine of their last 11 home games and are 12-4-0 in their past 16 at Madison Square Garden.

Shesterkin won his fifth straight and posted his second shutout this season. He nimbly denied Pittsburgh forward Mikael Granland with a sprawling save five minutes into the third period to preserve the shutout, the 10th of his career. His other one this season was a 1-0 home win over Philadelphia on Nov. 1.

“When you put in hard and honest work, miracles happen,” Shesterkin said through a translator. ”We played wonderfully today – scored many, many goals. Honestly, I hope the fans loved it. We’re playing for them.”

The Penguins lost their third straight and trail the Rangers by 12 points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Pittsburgh, still in wild-card position, is trying to reach the playoffs for the 17th straight time.

“Tonight was a humbling experience for all of us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. ”At this time of year, you have to have a short memory. We still have control of our destiny.”

Patrick Kane and defenseman K’Andre Miller also had two assists apiece as New York improved to 7-1-1 in its last nine home games against Pittsburgh. The Rangers are five points behind the second-place New Jersey Devils, who lost at Florida on Saturday.

“This was a big game for our goalie and our team,” Panarin said. “If you work at playing the right way, you have opportunities for goals.”

Since Dec. 5, when they turned around their season with a 6-4 comeback win at home over St. Louis, the Rangers are 29-9-5.

As he did on Thursday when the Rangers beat the Penguins 4-2, Zibanejad opened the scoring. He got his team-leading 36th goal at 5:10 of the first, beating Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry. Trouba and Miller assisted.

Panarin made it 2-0 at 19:49 on the power play, whipping the puck past Jarry from the left circle off a pass from Adam Fox.

Tarasenko increased the lead at 3:54 of the second with his fifth goal since joining the Rangers in a trade with St. Louis on Feb. 9. Tarasenko has points in 10 of his first 18 games with the Rangers.

Kreider made it 4-0 at 6:43 with his 31st goal and third in two games against the Penguins. Kane and Vincent Trocheck assisted on Kreider’s 260th career goal, which moved the Rangers forward within two of Vic Hadfield for fifth place on the franchise list.

New York won Thursday when Kreider scored the go-ahead goal in the third and added an empty-netter.

After Casey DeSmith replaced Jarry in net following Kreider’s goal, Trouba beat the replacement with a sharp-angle shot at 8:39 for his eighth to increase the margin to 5-0. Trouba has points in six of his last eight games.

Panarin scored again at 16:38 of the second – his 22nd goal of the season – to make it 6-0, with assists to Kane and Filip Chytil.

“We’re building chemistry, building every day and every game,” Kane said.

Panarin has points in eight of his last 10 games and leads the Rangers with 77 points overall, while Kane has seven points in his last six games.

“It’s nice to see that many great players on your team,” added Panarin, whose first two NHL seasons were played alongside Kane with the Chicago Blackhawks. “We’re happy tonight.”

Zibanejad assisted on goals by Tarasenko and Trouba and has 25 points – including 14 goals – over his last 20 games.

“It was just one of those nights when the puck goes in for us,” Zibanejad said. “And obviously Igor gives us a boost making all those saves.”

NOTES: The Penguins were missing defenseman Jeff Petry after he was hit with an unpenalized elbow from Rangers forward Tyler Motte on Thursday. … Pittsburgh also scratched defenseman Jan Rutta and forward Dalton Heinen and played defenseman Mark Friedman for the first time since Feb. 11. … The Rangers were without injured defenseman Ryan Lindgren for the 10th straight game.


Penguins: Host the Ottawa Senators on Monday.

Rangers: Host the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.